Part of being a caregiver is knowing how to prevent falls in elderly loved ones.
Sadly, every year millions of over 65s experience the trauma, both physical and mental, of a fall.
There are many reasons why an elderly person may fall, from reduced mobility to medication side effects.
This article will cover coping with a fall, plus how to prevent falls in elderly loved ones.
Here’s a summary of what we’ll cover:
- The elderly are at higher risk of falls due to physical factors such as loss of muscle, and conditions affecting mobility.
- When a fall happens they are at risk of broken bones, including traumatic injuries such as hip fractures.
- Knowing how to prevent falls in elderly loved ones is essential for caregivers.
- If a fall does occur, having a plan of action can be a huge help.
What causes falls in elderly?
Falls constitute a traumatic event which can cause fear, injury, hospitalisation and even death.
Thankfully, they are very often preventable.
However, current NHS statistics show that around 1 in 3 adults over 65 and half of people over 80 will have at least one fall a year.
Let’s look at what causes falls in elderly people.
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Fall Risk factors - Physical
From age 30 your muscles start to reduce in mass. This process speeds up around 65 and again in your mid-70s.
Older people experience sarcopenia, which is the involuntary loss of muscle mass that occurs with age.
This reduced muscle mass is a huge risk factor for falls in elderly people.
Low physical activity levels
While it is bound to affect less active people more, physically active people can still be affected.
Sarcopenia causes weakness and loss of stamina, which can further interfere with physical activity.
Thus contributing to the cycle of muscle loss and increasing the fall risk in elderly people.
Other falls risk factors include
- Foot problems and arthritis
- Visual impairments
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Use of medicines, such as tranquillisers, sedatives, or antidepressants.
- Hazards at home like poor lighting, slippery floors or uneven surfaces.
- Badly fitting footwear and clothing that can be tripped on
- Incorrect or inefficient walking aids that don’t support weight
Fall Risk factors - Mental
People needing dementia care or living with other cognitive conditions are at greater risk of falls.
This is because they are more likely to experience problems with mobility, balance and strength.
Plus memory loss and other symptoms can lead to problems navigating objects and places.
Fear of falling
An Age UK survey found 4.3 million older people (36%) are worried about falling. We discuss this further later on.
How to prevent falls in elderly loved ones
Unfortunately, it will never be possible to completely eradicate the risk of falls for elderly people.
Falls can happen to anyone, even if they aren’t classed as being at high risk.
But there are lots of things that you can do to prevent falls in elderly loved ones.
You should start by assessing and addressing the risk of them having a fall.
First, identify any conditions that increase the risk of falls by discussing medical history and medications with a doctor.
Work on improving strength and balance through gentle exercise, as stronger muscles help prevent falls.
Use a mobile walking aid as a precaution and to provide extra balance when moving around.
Take Vitamin D supplements for bone health to strengthen bones and absorb calcium.
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Make adaptations in the home
Declutter by removing unnecessary items from rooms and walkways. This reduces the risk of tripping over something.
Install grab rails in hallways and bathrooms for physical support so your loved one feels safe and independent at home.
Fit non-slip mats under rugs and on slippery surfaces to increase friction and prevent slipping on rugs and floor surfaces.
Organise home help or home care visits to help with tasks at home plus care tasks such as washing or using the kitchen.
How to be fall ready
To be the best prepared for falls consider the following:
- How frequently do care visits happen?
- Who is the emergency contact?
- Can they use a mobile phone?
- Do they have a personal or medical alarm?
- Can they shout for help?
- Do you know how to help them?
What are the consequences of falls?
Falls happen for many reasons and can cause varying levels of injury.
Sadly in some elderly people, a fall can lead to hospitalisation and further deterioration.
In fact, 1 in 5 falls cause serious injury like broken bones or a head injury.
These types of injuries can be debilitating and cause a loss of independence.
If an elderly person falls and is on the ground for an hour or more, this is known as a ‘long lie’.
Alongside potential pain and mental distress, long lies are associated with serious health complications.
A long lie after a fall can lead to dehydration, hypothermia, pneumonia, pressure sores, and acute kidney failure or rhabdomyolysis.
If someone has been on the floor for a long time after a fall, or you are unsure, seek urgent medical help.
Falls and hip fractures
Falls are a significant cause of hip fractures in elderly people.
A UK government review of long-term elderly disability found that roughly 20% of hip fracture patients entered long-term care in the first year after fracture.
Hip fractures are also the most common reason for older people needing emergency anaesthesia and surgery.
They are also the most common cause of accidental death for the elderly.
For this it is essential to know how to prevent falls in elderly loved ones.
Even if there is no injury sustained, falls can be incredibly traumatic.
For some people, just the thought of a fall is distressing, even if they have never had one.
This can have long-term effects on mental health.
And the fear of falling may cause your loved one to stop doing activities that they enjoy.
This loss of independence can trigger poor mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Such socially isolating behaviour can have an equally negative impact on the physical condition.
What to do after a fall
In the moment
If an elderly person falls they may not be able to get up on their own.
This could be due to lack of strength, shock or due to serious injury or even loss of consciousness.
It is important to get them up off the floor, though this must be done carefully to minimise injury.
Caregivers should be trained how to check for any injuries and how to lift an elderly person after a fall.
Get checked out by the doctor
Serious injuries require emergency medical attention.
Even if there are no obvious injuries, you should still seek medical advice and follow up with a doctor’s appointment.
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If any injuries are sustained then they will have to be monitored during the recovery period.
Otherwise you can help your loved one by guiding them through strength and balance exercises.
Try out morning stretches and chair yoga for seniors.
Make home adaptations
If you hadn’t already, it is a good time to make home adaptations to help prevent future falls.
From grab rails to extra care support hours, there are many things you can do to help them feel safer.
Try to stay independent
Recovering from a fall may take some time, but it is important that your loved one isn’t isolated and knows how to cope with loneliness.
Making adaptations to the home or their care can help them maintain independence and not feel frail.
This is essential for long-term health and happiness when recovering from a fall.
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